When the annual Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival kicks off for the 11th time Wednesday night, it will likely be the biggest it has ever been.
The weeklong festival will be showing 198 films selected from more than 1,000 submissions from locales as far-flung as India, Hong Kong and Canada.
Cinema on the Bayou began in 2006 as an alternative to the New Orleans Film Festival, canceled that year in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Pat Mire, founder and artistic director of Cinema on the Bayou, said at the time he was already working on bringing a film festival to Lafayette.
He was contacted by the National Film Board of Canada to premier a movie by filmmaker Andre Gladu that was scheduled to premiere in New Orleans — and Cinema on the Bayou was born.
The festival has blossomed in recent years into a truly international film festival, Mire said, himself an award-winning local filmmaker.
It is now the second-oldest film festival in Louisiana, and in Mire’s opinion, the most interesting.
Mire and Festival Director Rebecca Hudsmith credit this to the incredible culture, generosity and intimacy that is expected of a festival coming from the heart of Cajun country.
Most of the increase in popularity of the festival can be credited to word of mouth from the alumni filmmakers, Mire said.
When they have a positive experience, they share it with other filmmakers, and Mire says he has a festival that truly caters to these artists.
Often his house can be filled with nearly 100 friends and filmmakers on nights during the festival, all drinking wine and chatting while Mire works on a gumbo into the early morning.
Mire said being from Louisiana “we forget how special this place is,” but for the filmmakers from around the world, the hospitality is unforgettable.
That intimacy is what makes Cinema on the Bayou special.
“They go see each others films, they get ideas and they share ideas. You know you are advancing a craft,” he said.
It is obvious Mire doesn’t consider his festival pretentious, despite some of the heavy-hitting films that screen at the event.
“This year we have a film that was short-listed at Sundance,” he said, yet in that same breath said everyone can still learn no matter how good his or her films are.
“Young filmmakers mix with veteran filmmakers — that’s beautiful,” he said. “You can see them talking, you can see the passion. A veteran can learn from a 22-year-old.”
The festival has been well-accepted by the community with the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Convention being a major funder.
In addition, the films are screened around town at Cité des Arts, the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Vermilionville, Pack & Paddle, Celebrity Theatres in Broussard and the Lafayette Parish Library main branch and south regional branch.
Tickets, films and times can be found online at the festival’s website, cinemaonthebayou.com or can be purchased at the door of the venues.
The opening night will take place at the Acadiana Center for the Arts and will feature free food and music with a cash bar.
Mire and Hudsmith both said the opening film, the documentary “Voyagers Without Trace”, is one not to miss.
The film, which is making its Louisiana premier, tells the story of a group of Frenchmen on the eve of World War II who decide to come to the United States and kayak the Colorado River, filming their adventure on 16mm film, Hudsmith said.
Mire lauds the film for its beautiful cinematography and for its powerful story.
The filmmakers went to France to retrieve the footage from the heirs of the original group of Frenchmen; they intertwine the original footage with present day high definition footage to create something beautiful, Mire said.
Hudsmith said the French Consul General will be at the festival on opening night to greet people and take in some of the films.
Mire said the films presented at the festival rarely cost more than $1 million to produce, and that’s for high-end films.
“You better be a good storyteller,” he said about the small budgets.
One of Mire’s favorite films at this year’s festival is a Western created for $40,000 that he said has fantastic acting.
“How do you make a Western for $40,000?” he asked — and then answered his own question: “It’s such a labor of love.”
But the filmmakers aren’t the only ones who make sacrifices. With more than 1,000 submissions, Mire and Hudsmith have spent most of their holidays watching all the films and determining which will be sent to the screening committee.
Mire said his work began in June and hasn’t let up since.
When the festival ends after its weeklong run, you can be assured Mire will be immediately thinking about next year’s Cinema on the Bayou.